Category Archives: Reviews and Commentary

Barriers to Government and Citizen Communication

The first part of this post is a homework assignment for Strategic Communications Applications class in which I summarize the barriers to government and citizen communication as stated in our textbook, “Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations”. The second section is my own commentary which includes a lot of my opinion, speculation, and things I’d like the opportunity to delve into further to either prove or disprove. What do you think? Is your government a help to your life, a deadweight on your progress, or a mixture of both?

In our textbook are listed many challenges to successful two-way communication between citizens and government (Broom and Sha 356-366).

1. The government is large and complex with many bureaucratic layers that are difficult and time consuming to navigate.

2. Citizens expectations of what services government should provide keep expanding.

3. There is suspicion about the ethics of the entire profession of public relations and the governments that employ them.

4. Actual incidents of government misinformation have occurred, intentional or just not thorough enough, interpreted as lies or spin, such as in the Iraq war buildup.

5. There is a lot of citizen apathy.

6. There is often hostility of legislators to the public relations profession for budget and other reasons, sometimes causing practitioners to choose other areas of expertise.

7. A lack of journalists to cover government activity thoroughly.

8. When it comes to distributing information, government and media often have different agendas.

9. The job of informing the public is too large for anyone to do well.

10. Unlike a business with a more limited scope, a government has to attempt to please everyone rather than cater to one public in particular.

Works Cited

Broom, Glen M. and Bey-Ling Sha. Effective Public Relations. Pearson, 2013.

My Further Commentary

Here are some factors I’ve considered that the book did not mention, based partly on my own opinion, perceptions and experiences. I’ll put in any links and citations I can find as I go, exploring ideas that I can bolster with other sources.

A. Some members of government agencies represent their departments poorly and abuse their power over citizens, building mistrust. This apparently is what happened to my husband and I when we started putting in a rain garden to help cope with excess storm water. I documented all that in these two blog posts of mine and my final project for this course, Strategic Communications Applications, will partly be an attempt to analyze and find motivation for these actions against us.

B. News media is no longer the watchdog over government that it once was, due to more activist news coverage (Broom and Sha 365), or was perceived to have been. There is more than one reason for this in my opinion.

    • 1. Because traditional “old media” institutions are losing revenue to other channels, they are concentrating more on their social media channels. News on social media tends to be less informative, more opinion based, less accurate, and posted by journalists who are less constrained by ethics or standards than in the past (“The Impact of…”). Much content is only created to get views and clicks in order to sell ads and does not need to have much substance or even be true in order to meet the goals of the media organizations who publish it (Johnstone).
    • 2. Investigative journalism about government takes a lot of time and money to produce, and available money and staff are more limited (Grieco). Journalists can get stories with less time and effort by just repeating statements from sources without confirming or investigating (Johnstone).
        “Journalists wanted information to be easily available, yet resented the men and women who made it available. By the mid twentieth century, journalists were dependent on PR practitioners for a large percentage of the stories appearing in newspapers. But admitting their dependence would shatter cherished ideals. Journalists were proud of their ability to uncover stories, verify details, and expose sham. Thus, they were unlikely to admit their dependence, lack of skepticism, failure to verify, and failure to expose every sham.” – Delorme and Fedler, 2003. (Broom and Sha, 226)
    • 3. The attention span of the average person in our country is going down and there is less demand for in-depth stories with enough information to truly be informed (Lords).
    • 4. Issues related to the size and function of government are politicized. The personal philosophy of journalists and companies that employ them is more likely to follow their political interests rather than the well-being of citizens than in the past (“The Impact of…”).
    • 5. The media has less and less credibility with citizens because of selective reporting, staging and manipulating events in order to have a story that they want to be able to report, un-named sources that may or may not even exist and outright fabrication (“The Impact of…”, Johnstone). There are bi-partisan examples of this to be found. I’ll post one example each from two different political sides here for examination.

      The Pew Research Center measures the public’s attitudes toward both media and government and finds that news coverage about government is evaluated and consumed very differently according to political affiliation (Jurkowitz, et al).

    • 6. Many media institutions and personalities engage in “gaslighting”, similar to what is often done to the victim in abusive domestic relationships. Media, both entertainment and what is presented as “news” is permeated with attempts to make a lot of people who have done nothing wrong and have accurate and reasonable perceptions of reality to feel ridiculed and ostracized (Battaglio). If this is continued, the “Spiral of Silence” theory posits that certain ideas disappear from public discourse over time (Baran and Davis 268). Our form of government is based on the premise that people should be free to discuss issues in order to make the most rational choice, but there are many forces trying to restrict certain information from being discussed in public (Bufkin, Farrah, Gordon, OyperG, Poulakidakos, Sherr).

      For example in 2013 I was literally holding in my hand a letter from my insurance company saying that my insurance was cancelled when an “entertainment” podcast I was listening to was ridiculing people who claimed that their insurance was cancelled, claiming we were liars trying to fool people. This was a podcast that I had a paid subscription to. I sent a scan of my rejection letter to the podcast host along with a cancellation of my subscription to the podcast. The host’s response was to call me stupid and say I was making it up. That’s an example of gaslighting and DARVO, Deny Attack Reverse Victim Offender, a tactic that abusive domestic partners and other abusers use to keep their victims under coercive control (Harsey, Zurbriggen and Freyd, 644). While the majority of media outlets were trying to deny that there were cancellations happening, a web site with Twitter account was set up for people to send pictures of their cancellation letters for publication (Fennell). Twitter shut that account down, then reinstated it later after public outrage (Fennell). Since I did see my letter on that web site and Twitter account and it was unaltered from what I sent them, I judged the things they were posting to be credible unless I was presented with information indicating otherwise. So even in a society where there is supposed to be freedom of speech and the government has limited ability to censor if the constitution is followed, corporations can take political stances and if they don’t want certain things known they can do a lot to censor information that isn’t in their interests (OyperG, Fennell, Bufkin). If we rely for information on a corporation that is in the business of news or providing a communication platform, we can’t assume without investigating that we are getting true or complete information about any issue. While media corporations sometimes have an agenda that is in opposition to a government (Broom and Sha 365), at other times they can be complicit (Woodruff). Citizens must investigate for themselves to try to determine the truth to the best of their ability, and many do not have the time or interest and so remain poorly informed (Broom and Sha 356-366, Poulakidakos 373).

TO BE CONTINUED…

Works Cited

Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.

Battaglio, Stephen, “Hallmark Channel isn’t winning Emmys, but red states love it.” Los Angeles Times, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-hallmark-red-state-20170914-story.html. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Broom, Glen M. and Bey-Ling Sha. Effective Public Relations. Pearson, 2013.

Bufkin, Ellie, “Twitter Users Appalled by Bias and Censorship Plan Boycott.” Townhall.com/Salem Media, 2020, https://townhall.com/tipsheet/elliebufkin/2020/06/24/conservatives-appalled-by-bias-and-censorship-plan-twitter-boycott-n2571231. Accessed 12 October 2020.

Farrah, Kristen. “Republicans fear prejudice on campus.” Webster Journal, 2019, websterjournal.com/…/republicans-fear-prejudice-on…/. Accessed 4 October 2019.

Fennell, “Twitter Suspends (Then Reinstates) Account Critical of Obamacare.” IndustryDive, 2013, www.socialmediatoday.com/content/twitter-suspends-then-reinstates-account-critical-obamacare. Accessed 12 October 2020.

Gearhart, Sherice, and Weiwu Zhang. “Same Spiral, Different Day? Testing the Spiral of Silence across Issue Types.” Communication Research, vol. 45, no. 1, Feb. 2018, pp. 34-54. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/0093650215616456. Accessed 2 October 2019.

Gordon, Sherri. “How to Handle Political Bullying on Facebook.” Dotdash, 2019, www.verywellmind.com/how-to-handle-political-bullying…. Accessed 4 October 2019.

Grieco, Elizabeth. “U.S. newspapers have shed half of their newsroom employees since 2008.” Pew Research Center, 2020, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/20/u-s-newsroom-employment-has-dropped-by-a-quarter-since-2008/. Accessed 11 October 2020.

Hasenfratz, Carolyn. “MSD’s Project Clear and Our Local Water Issues.” Schnarr’s Hardware Company, 2017, schnarrsblog.com/msds-project-clear-and-our-local-water-issues/. Accessed 15 October 2019.

Johnstone, Caitlin. “‘Confirmed’ Is a Meaningless Word In MSM News Reporting.” Consortiumnews, 2020, consortiumnews.com/2020/09/27/confirmed-is-a-meaningless-word-in-msm-news-reporting/. Accessed 11 October 2020.

Jurkowitz, Mark et al. “U.S. Media Polarization and the 2020 Election: A Nation Divided.” Pew Research Center, 2020, www.journalism.org/2020/01/24/u-s-media-polarization-and-the-2020-election-a-nation-divided/. Accessed 11 October 2020.

Kim, Mihee. “Facebook’s Spiral of Silence and Participation: The Role of Political Expression on Facebook and Partisan Strength in Political Participation.” CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, vol. 19, no. 12, Dec. 2016, pp. 696-702. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1089/cyber.2016.0137. Accessed 2 October 2019.

Lords, Shannon, “As Attention Spans Get Shorter, Content Gets Even Shorter – What Would Ken Burns Do?” Advertising Week, 2020, https://www.advertisingweek360.com/attention-spans-get-shorter-content-gets-shorter-ken-burns/. Accessed 10 October 2020.

Madrigal, Alexis C. “What Facebook Did to American Democracy And why it was so hard to see it coming.” The Atlantic, 2017, www.theatlantic.com/…/2017/10/what-facebook-did/542502/. Accessed 4 October 2019.

OyperG, “NBC Goes Mask Off – Reveals Twitter Censorship Methods After Devastating Hack.” Bitcoin Warrior, 2020, bitcoinwarrior.net/2020/07/nbc-goes-mask-off-reveals-twitter-censorship-methods-after-devastating-hack/. Accessed 9 October 2020.

Poulakidakos, Stamatis, et al. “Post-Truth, Propaganda and the Transformation of the Spiral of Silence.” International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics, vol. 14, no. 3, Sept. 2018, pp. 367-382. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1386/macp.14.3.367_1. Accessed 2 October 2019.

Sarah J. Harsey, Eileen L. Zurbriggen & Jennifer J. Freyd (2017) Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame, Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 26:6, 644-663, DOI: 10.1080/10926771.2017.1320777. Accessed 12 October 2020.

Sherr, Ian. “How Facebook censors your posts (FAQ).” CNET, 2016, www.cnet.com/news/how-zuckerberg-facebook-censors-korryn-gaines-philando-castile-dallas-police-your-posts-faq/. Accessed 9 October 2020.

Silverblatt, Art et al. Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages. Fourth Edition. Praeger, 2014.

Swift, Art. “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low.” Gallup, Inc. 2016, https://news.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx. Accessed 24 September 2019.

“Taliban Denies CBS Claim of Endorsing Trump Reelection.” Tasnim News Agency, 2020, www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2020/10/11/2367327/taliban-denies-cbs-claim-of-endorsing-trump-reelection. Accessed 11 October 2020.

“The Impact Of Social Media On News and Journalism.” New York Film Academy, 2014, www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/social-media-in-journalism/. Accessed 10 October 2020.

Winkelmann, Carolyn Hasenfratz. “Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me To Court.” Carolyn Hasenfratz Design, 2019, www.chasenfratz.com/wp/drainage-problems-are-bringing-tom-and-i-to-court/. Accessed 15 October 2019.

Woodruff, Betsy. “Democrat Rep: Insurance Cancellation Letters Should Have Just Said Things Are Getting Better.” National Review, 2013, www.nationalreview.com/corner/democrat-rep-insurance-cancellation-letters-should-have-just-said-things-are-getting/. Accessed 9 October 2020.

I also put some resources I’ve collected as I work on my degree on this Pinterest board:

https://www.pinterest.com/chasenfratz/media-analysis/

More of my commentary on Corporate Social Responsibility

Here are some more excerpts from my homework for Strategic Communications Applications class as we wrote and commented on a discussion board about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Examples Of Corporate Social Responsibility

Hampton Inns

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hampton Inns encouraged tourism on Route 66 and other historic roads and endeared themselves to a lot of Route 66 fans by sponsoring preservation projects along the route. The program was called the Hampton Save-A-Landmark program. I was made aware of the program through my own personal intense Route 66 fandom and related Route 66 news sources and events.

Sites that were targets for the preservation program received help with preservation projects along with a large and attractive signs for each sponsored location that was branded with Hampton Inns and the Save-A-Landmark graphics. The signs raised awareness among the public that the site was significant. Some historic Route 66 and other old roadside attractions are of an importance not always apparent to those not in the know about historic road trip subculture – they often look quite humble and unassuming. The signs helped to raise awareness of Hampton Inns also. From personal experience I know some Hampton Inns were patronized by many Route 66 devotees, at least during the time the campaign was running, even though sometimes the Hampton Inns were a little more expensive than the usual hotels the roadies usually patronized. Awareness of Route 66 makes road trips more fun and getting more drivers out on the roads is good for all businesses along the road including Hampton Inns. It makes sense for a large chain business to take action that helps all tourism as well as mitigates some of the bad feeling among preservationists when large chain businesses make it difficult for smaller historic businesses to survive.

Hampton Inns also made some Save-A-Landmark program branded games meant as giveaways for kids. Some of these games ended up in the hands of collectors (I still have one!) because they provided cases of them to the Route 66 community to distribute at Route 66 events. Adults grabbed some for their collections after the kids who were present got theirs. I loved this game idea because when I was young we had a Stuckey’s board game that I loved to play. I wish we still had it! Games are a great way to build brand loyalty in the young, to have fun and to educate. If I could, I would still patronize Howard Johnson’s, Stuckey’s and A&W often while on road trips. These places are rare now, but are brands I enjoyed very much in childhood. These brands have a place in my collections of road memorabilia because I enjoy the personal memories, the graphics and the history.

More info:
https://www.hotel-online.com/News/PR2004_2nd/May04_HamptonLandmarks.html

Here is the front and back of the game:
http://www.chasenfratz.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/hampton_front.jpg 
http://www.chasenfratz.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/hampton_back.jpg 

Ozark Outdoors Riverfront Resort

Ozark Outdoors is a resort and outfitter that services the area of the Missouri Ozarks where the Huzzah, Courtois, and Meramec rivers meet. Like several other float trip outfitters in Missouri, they give out mesh trash bags to their patrons and provide trash receptacles at the take out points to encourage and enable floaters to dispose of their trash responsibly. In addition, Ozark Outdoors has donated the use of shuttles, vessels and trash pickup containers in their role as sponsor of Operation Clean Stream for several years. Operation Clean Stream is a volunteer effort to pick up trash from land and bodies of water to clean up waterways and the environment in general. Ozark Outdoor stands to get more visitors if the rivers that they serve remain clean and beautiful so it makes sense for them to sponsor such an activity. The humans and wildlife in the area and downstream all benefit from clean water too.

More info:
https://ozarkoutdoorsresort.com/operation-clean-stream-on-missouri-rivers/
http://www.chasenfratz.com/wp/fit-and-healthy-on-route-66-operation-clean-stream-on-the-meramec-river/

Corporate Social Responsibility and Irresponsibility

Here is some more of my homework for Strategic Comminications class at Webster University. The topic of Corporate Social Responsibility is one that we have addressed several times. Here is one of my writing assignments followed by some of my online discussion posts offered as food for thought.

Corporate Social Responsibility and Irresponsibility

“Cuties” is a film recently added to the network Netflix that director Maïmouna Doucouré claims is “social commentary against the sexualization of young children” (Sandler). Enough people were either offended by the topic of the film or the marketing of the film to organize petitions, boycotts and the hashtag campaign #CancelNetflix (Sandler). Netflix did in fact experience a higher number of cancellations than usual in September 2020 as a result of what some interpret as the normalization of pedophilia and child porn (Sandler). In the long term, will the reputation of Netflix be harmed permanently?

Findings in the paper “Corporate Social (Ir)Responsibility and Corporate Hypocrisy: Warmth, Motive and the Protective Value of Corporate Social Responsibility” suggest that the negative backlash against Netflix will be short-lived (Chen 486–524). Sometimes the same firms engage in acts that are perceived as both Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Corporate Social Irresponsibility (CSI) (Chen 486-487).

Netflix believes that showing the film “Cuties” is an act of CSR because it exposes and criticizes the sexualization of children, even though enough former viewers to create a noticeable spike in cancellations believes they have displayed CSI instead (Sandler). Netflix formerly employed actor Kevin Spacey to star in their original series “House of Cards” which was very popular and profitable for Netflix (Czarnecki). Netflix lost millions by firing Spacey to demonstrate support for the #metoo movement, but gained a great deal of good will from the public in return (Czarnecki).

It seems logical to assume that it is important to try to avoid the appearance of corporate hypocrisy – the difference between the perception of the values a firm vs. it’s actions. Is Netflix going to be judged as engaging in corporate hypocrisy, and therefore suffer in reputation? According to authors Chen et al in “Corporate Social (Ir)Responsibility and Corporate Hypocrisy: Warmth, Motive and the Protective Value of Corporate Social Responsibility”, hypocrisy does not always do harm to firms (Chen 487-490).

One factor that insulates a corporation against negative effects on its reputation is the perception of warmth (Chen 490). By accepting a significant financial loss to mitigate the “House of Cards” scandal (Czarnecki), Netflix raised their perception of corporate warmth to a great degree by promoting others interests above its own (Chen 490). In addition Netflix is “… a company that’s reinvented itself from being a tech-based internet-content-delivery machine to a creator of world-class content. Those two things combined have translated into an unprecedented reputational gain” (Czarnecki). Is there a rational reason for people to feel warm emotions toward a provider of entertainment as opposed to some other product or service? A paper by Eduard Sioe-Hao Tan suggests why that might indeed be the case (Tan 45). “A lay person’s understanding of what it means to entertain somebody involves being amusing or giving pleasure, activities associated with being a good host to a guest.” The entertainer may be considered responsible for voluntarily rendering a personal service to the viewer (Tan 45).

The perception of competence is another attitude that can mitigate CSI in the minds of stakeholders (Chen 490). Amazon is a company that is considered very competent but lacks the emotional connection enjoyed by it’s book-selling rival Barnes & Noble which connected with shoppers emotions by associating physical bookstores with nostalgic values (Czarnecki). Now that Amazon has evolved beyond just a delivery system of entertainment and is also in competition with Netflix as a producer of original entertainment content, the battle over viewer’s emotions will be interesting to observe. At a time when the spotlight is on racial injustice to a greater degree than is normal, Amazon and Netflix both made donations to organizations working toward racial equality (Hessekiel). Amazon donated 10 million, and Netflix donated 1 million. The amounts could reflect the resources available to each company for such expenditures, the awareness by Amazon that it needs to buy moral credits more than Netflix does, or perhaps some combination of the two. In that light, what is the meaning of WalMart donating 100 million?

Speaking of morality credits, another strategy that a firm can use to protect itself against harm to its reputation is to express aspirational messages of what it would like to do, or about the kind of society it would like to promote. The message of having certain values will give the corporation moral credits even if its behavior doesn’t always back up what it preaches (Chen 487-490). Whether a corporation’s behavior is always consistent or not, a strong investment in CSR does seem to have a protective effect on any future transgressions, intentional or accidental (Chen 517-518).

Works Cited

Chen, Zhifeng, et al. “Corporate Social (Ir)Responsibility and Corporate Hypocrisy: Warmth, Motive and the Protective Value of Corporate Social Responsibility.” Business Ethics Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 4, Oct. 2020, pp. 486–524. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1017/beq.2019.50. Accessed 28 September 2020.

Czarnecki, Sean, “Netflix tops the list for best corporate reputation.” PR Week, 2019, www.prweek.com/article/1580994/netflix-tops-list-best-corporate-reputation. Accessed 28 September 2020.

Hessekiel, David. “Companies Taking A Public Stand In The Wake Of George Floyd’s Death.” Forbes, 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/davidhessekiel/2020/06/04/companies-taking-a-public-stand-in-the-wake-of-george-floyds-death/#4e3e52d47214. Accessed 28 September 2020.

Sandler, Rachel. “Netflix Sees Spike In Cancellations Over ‘Cuties’ Backlash, Analytics Firm Says.” Forbes.Com, Sept. 2020, p. N.PAG. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=145929254&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 28 September 2020.

Tan, EduardSioe-Hao. “Entertainment Is Emotion: The Functional Architecture of the Entertainment Experience.” Media Psychology, vol. 11, no. 1, Feb. 2008, pp. 28–51. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/15213260701853161. Accessed 28 September 2020.

Some of my comments on Corporate Social Responsibility and Facebook

“My view of Facebook is that they are mainly supplying a platform for people to use as they want, with spaces for advertising. Of course there are some extreme things that get banned. Sometimes I think the bans are fair and sometimes I don’t. One thing I have noticed is that they put a voting badge in the interface so you can quickly check your status or register. Let me try it right now…

Ok I noticed they spelled my name wrong on the paper I got back from the election board, so I’m going to have to look it up under the misspelled name. The voting button leads to a voting information page hosted by Facebook which has links to the usual stuff that any web page that is put up for public information would have – how to register, what are the requirements, what are the deadlines, etc. Kind of similar to what a lot of information sites put up about COVID-19 or any other important issue. It’s good for democracy (I know we have a democratic republic) for as many people to vote as possible who are eligible, so that is an example of CSR.

Another feature I like about Facebook is that you can do searches on advertising regardless of whether it’s an ad that would be shown to you normally, and see who paid for it. That helps a lot with transparency.

It’s my opinion that Facebook is not inherently good or bad, like with most things it’s what you do with it that makes your life better or worse. The people at the top running it can be good or bad and the decisions they make do affect people. I think there is potential for abuse and with any platform or any media we have to be informed about how it works and insist on transparency to keep it in check. I am very interested in media literacy and how it can help protect us. I agree with people who say that too much use is not that healthy, and I think that about TV and a lot of other things too. There are a lot of things that can be a good tool used mindfully and purposefully, including food, something which I’m using more mindfully lately with beneficial effect. As we keep learning in this field of study, we all think we are better at determining how to use media than other people, which means other people think they know better than us how to use it safely. I do worry about us serving media rather than media serving us.”

grocery_pickup_093020

“Speaking of voting, got these in my Walmart grocery pickup bag last night. It’s been awhile since I got a free sample. I like free samples and I like the voter registration encouragement. I tried texting the number and it works. When you get to the page on your mobile device, it gives you English and Spanish options. The data comes from https://www.ballotready.org/ and the card is branded with WalMart and the Consumer Action network. The Consumer Action Network is here – https://www.consumeractionnetwork.org/.

I looked at the web page for the Consumer Action Network and the issues they are involved with currently seem to mostly be based on beer and liquor sales and how to make it easier for consumers to buy beer and liquor. What do you think led to this particular partnership?

https://phone2action.com/  is involved in the technical part of the process.

I like getting the freebie of the reusable cleaning cloth. It’s good promotion for the product and always fun to try out a free product sample. Is the product good for the environment? There is enough info on the package to research it.

I was unable to get the QR code to work. It might be printed too small to work with my phone.

I’ve been uploading a lot of images to Facebook to move them from my phone to a computer for editing. With my technology setup at the moment it’s a fast way to do it and sometimes gets a discussion going in my feed. So I put my commentary that I’m writing here with the photo in Facebook. Since I was either mentioning voting in my text, or the image had to do with voting, an algorithm popped up in Facebook with a link to the voting information center that they put together. So – both Facebook and Walmart and a lot of people are very invested in voting. I could not detect any political partisanship in either campaign. I’ve always thought that everyone who could vote, should. And try to participate in civic duties and civic activities whenever possible. The government chapter we read in our textbook has some things to say related to this.”

“Also interesting is the choice of graphic on the voting drive card. It sends a specific message to people who know the origin of that type of image, and there are things in it that would resonate with people just because of the elements it contains even if they don’t know the history.”

 

The Federalist Papers and Public Relations

Here is what I wrote for one of my assignments for my Strategic Communications class. I’m posting it here because I needed a history refresher to write this and some of you out there might enjoy one too. The question put to us was, “Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay engineered “history’s finest public relations job” to gain national acceptance of the U.S. Constitution. Based on your reading of Chapter 4, describe the organized effort they undertook to urge ratification of the Constitution. How did their approach differ from those of the nation’s first publicity agencies, and now in contemporary times?”

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers to make the case to ratify a new constitution featuring a stronger, more centralized Federal government to replace the Articles of Confederation (Thernstrom 174-177). Federalists had appropriated the title “Federalist” and labeled their opponents “Antifederalists” because it sounded better than to call themselves “Nationalists” even though Nationalist was a more accurate term (Thernstrom 175). The climate in which Hamilton, Madison and Jay wrote these articles was one in which 88 out of 100 newspapers in the colonies were Federalist-owned and did not print opposing views (Thernstrom 176). Hamilton sponsored a paper called the Gazette of the United States in order to insure the promotion of his ideas (Bitter 22). Even though he did not necessarily agree with which form Federalism should take, fellow Federalist Madison also used his influence to install a poet sympathetic with his own views as editor of a rival newspaper called The National Gazette (Bitter 22). Even with much press influence in place the Federalists came very close to failing to win ratification as the fear of replacing one type of tyranny with another was well-entrenched, especially among more rural populations (Thernstrom 175-176).

At the time the Federalist Papers were written, newspapers were generally published for specific audiences and not for a mass audience. The majority of Americans were not literate then so what newspapers there were mostly served specific interests (Bitter 21). The Federalist Papers were similar to the era’s papers in that they represented the interests of a group that was very influential but not what we think of today as “the masses” (Bitter 21). Only people who were very involved in politics were much concerned about which form the new government should take (Thernstrom 178).

John Jay, although he only wrote 5 out of 85 Federalist Papers, wrote some of the most influential. He was able to write persuasively by drawing on his personal experience as Foreign Secretary of the national government (Ferguson 223-224). After expressing some of his frustrations, Jay switched to more rational language that was also in contrast to the more fiery tones of Hamilton who wrote “Federalist No. 1” (Ferguson 225). Jay expressed his arguments in language that was beautiful on it’s own merit while conscious of trying to convince the reader of the rightness of his cause by insisting that the more aesthetically pleasing idea is the right idea (Ferguson 227-235).

When more organized public relations firms came into being in the early 1900s, they were responding to the needs of organizations seeking to counter the new phenomenon of mass media. More of the population was literate at this time and newspapers aimed at a mass audience were engaged in a lot of muckraking to advocate for and appeal to a more popular audience (Bitter 21).

The public relations profession further matured as the 20th century progressed, with specialization, increased recognition and milestones obtained by women and minorities. The pace of change accelerated at times of national crisis (Broom and Sha 91-101). Right before the 20th century ended, the internet started to see wide adoption and changed the way we all consume and produce information. Almost everyone now has some kind of a “press” in their possession, so we don’t have to sponsor a newspaper to get our opinions “printed”. However the amount of influence we can bring to bear and the way we use language are still important in determining how effective we are at communicating and persuading so most of the strategies that the Federalist Papers writers used are still relevant in my opinion.

Works Cited

Bitter, John. “Which Came First – Journalism or Public Relations.” Public Relations Quarterly, Fall 1987, pp. 21-22. Accessed 20 August 2020.

Broom, Glen M. and Bey-Ling Sha. Effective Public Relations. Pearson, 2013.

Ferguson, Robert A. “The Forgotten Publius: John Jay and the Aesthetics of Ratification.” Early American Literature, vol. 34, 1999, pp. 223–240. Accessed 20 August 2020.

Thernstrom, Stephan. A History of the American People: Volume One: To 1877. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.

Me at the National Constitution Center in 2009
Me at the National Constitution Center in 2009 hanging out with Ben and Alex.

Here is a follow up comment from me.

A lot of what I remember about the Enlightenment era has more to do with Art History than History class, since I took more art history being an art major. I’m going to get out my art history books and refresh my memory on that time period. I didn’t have much time to review this material at the time but I did go on a business trip to Philadelphia in 2009 and I traveled a day early so I could see Independence Hall and some other things. Walking the area around it, I took a lot of pictures of the classical style architecture and statuary of the day and tried to imagine what it was like back then.

Here is my Facebook album of pics from the time. It’s set to Public for viewing.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1134477966396&type=3

What is the Difference Between Public Relations and Marketing?

I’m enrolled in Strategic Communications class at Webster University for the Fall 1 Session.  For one of my assignments, I was asked to answer some questions and then engage in discussions on the topic. Here is my answer plus some of my subsequent remarks.

Define “public relations” and “marketing” and explain why these functions often are confused.

According to Broom and Sha, public relations is a function of management that organizations use to build and maintain relationships with the public to the benefit of all stakeholders (Broom and Sha 2).

In marketing, organizations study what consumers want and need and strive to provide attractive and useful offerings in exchange for something of value (Broom and Sha 5).

In your answer, point out the major difference that distinguishes these functions.

The major difference between marketing and public relations is that in the former, there is an exchange between the involved parties of goods, services, money, or some other consideration that has value (Broom and Sha 5).

Contrast publicity with advertising. In your answer, address issues related to message control, expense and relationship to marketing.

Publicity is something that an organization might cultivate, or it could happen to them involuntarily due to some kind of unforseen issue or circumstance. Publicity professionals can use their knowledge to tailor their publicity submissions while targeting the right recipients so that the information is used in a way that is favorable to the organizations goals. They can’t compel or control how the information is used however (Broom and Sha 7). Some publicity can be had for free, while other publicity might involve expenses such as labor to research and prepare the strategy and content or mailing printed information.

Some of the same skills that publicists use are used by advertisers and in some organizations the same people people might perform both functions. Organizations are not necessarily consistent in how titles and functions are used and the public can be influenced by the portrayals of both types of jobs by portrayals in the media which are not always accurate (Broom and Sha 7).

In advertising, the organization is paying for the exposure which gives them control over where the message is placed, the timing and the content (Broom and Sha 10).

Works Cited:

Broom, Glen M. and Bey-Ling Sha. Effective Public Relations. Pearson, 2013.

I took this picture early in the summer because I figured it would come in handy in marketing classes. One of the times that I used the Wal-Mart grocery pickup service, I got this surprise free bag with my order with free samples in it. Is this marketing or PR? Can they be doing both at the same time?

The book  (Broom and Sha) mentions that some efforts at PR are looked at with suspicion because it looks like the organization is trying to gain while appearing to be doing good, or some people already dislike and distrust the brand. There was a very different reaction among people depending on political affiliation with the stimulus checks, for example.

Wal-Mart is a brand that some people have strong reactions to. Wal-Mart gave me this bag of goodies when I had already used their services for awhile and it was a surprise. This was given out when a lot of brands were giving out some freebies to help out with COVID care and also get a little promotion.

For example at Schnarr’s, some companies gave us free hand sanitizer with their name on it to use for the store. Before masks were available at a reasonable price, I had a large stash that a client had given me for crafts, so I had plenty to share for awhile. If a customer came in the store really needing one to tide them over, I gave them one from my stash in a ziploc bag that I had packed after making sure my hands were clean. This is something I would have done whether or not it was good PR for the store and no one asked me to do it, but the store was my main exposure to other people at the time and it was something immediate I could do to help. I gave some plus some gloves to an old friend who works at a radio station. I didn’t give them to him because he works at a radio station, rather it was because he has health issues that make him very vulnerable and he was understandably  scared. I did not ask him to mention me or Schnarr’s (where he started buying stuff without being asked) on the air. I don’t know if he did or not, I didn’t ask. For me it was not a quid-pro-quo situation, but I was not at all displeased to get a new customer at the store.

The front and back of the thank you card in the Wal-Mart goody bag
The front and back of the thank you card in the Wal-Mart goody bag

The Wal-Mart bag doesn’t really have anything useful for COVID, but it was something that brightened my day. I loved some of the free samples and others I gave away. I have not re-ordered any of the free sample products but if someone wanted to Wal-Mart made it easy to re-order. I might re-order the deodorant if they have a non-spray version. It smells wonderful. Other than brightening my day and being good for health in that sense, this bag seems more marketing than PR. I think it’s effective because it thanks people for trying the service, and gives them incentives to try it again and at the same time makes it easy and convenient with the bar codes and QR codes. They knew they were probably getting a lot more new customers because they were one of the first to have pickup services and it was fully in place and working well before the pandemic so they didn’t have to put it together in a hurry.

fronts and backs of seed packets

Here is another example of something I’m giving away. Like a lot of gardeners, I tend to have more seeds than I need of some plants and I save some to trade and give away. A few years ago, I designed and printed out some of these little seed packet templates to fill with seeds and give away at Schnarr’s Hardware along with candy and other goodies like safety lights as “treats” on Halloween.

After the COVID-19 pandemic started, some friends and customers asked me if they should be concerned about food security and if so what to do about it. I didn’t really know the answers, but I know that when people are out of work that there is less money to go around and people who are poor will struggle more than usual to get their basic needs met. It’s not a new idea for people who find it difficult to afford food or live in “food deserts” that lack  stores to buy healthy food to engage in community gardening as a way to supplement the food supply. I gave some plants to someone who was trying to get a community garden started in his neighborhood.

Schnarr’s customers are mostly not of the group that needs to worry about meeting  basic needs, but there are a lot of customers that engage in gardening and might want some extra seeds to grow themselves, give away or trade. Also with possibly more kids being home schooled there might be more interest in home gardening so that kids can learn about plant biology and other related topics. I decided to reprint some of my little seed trading envelopes and package up some of my extra seeds for free giveaways as I harvest them.

Schnarr’s sells garden seeds, so is it a good idea to give some away? Mindful of not wanting to hurt sales I put small quantities in the packets, 4-10 seeds in each depending on the size of the seed. Someone who is not sure about trying a new plant or is casual about gardening in general might get inspired to do more if they try a free sample. That could bring us more sales in the long run of garden supplies. I put the Schnarr’s blog address on it so that people can read the large amounts of gardening information that I have contributed there. I think the information I put there will benefit those who want to learn more about gardening, but of course more readers also means more exposure for the blog. Those are a couple of ways that I think this giveaway can help Schnarr’s a tiny bit.

More importantly, how does this small action help the community? With the increased demand on gardening supplies in general that we have seen since the pandemic began, we are sold out of some seeds so even if someone wanted to buy a larger package of seeds from us, with some varieties they will have to wait. Some of my plants are species we wouldn’t carry anyway, so customers get the chance to try some new things. I also am convinced that since growing serious amounts of food is not easy, the more people who know how to do it the better off we are as a society. Added to that are the benefits to overall health of getting outdoors, interacting with nature and engaging in exercise. There has never been a better time to garden, if one is able, with the extra stress many of us are under – horticulture has therapeutic uses for mental and physical health.

I also put some of these seed packets in the little goody envelopes that I put in orders from my online store. I give a few to friends and fellow Master Gardener volunteers from time to time but since I’m not seeing those groups of people as often as I normally do, I need someone to give some of the seeds too!

What do you think, am I doing PR, marketing, or both?

Cookbooks, Collards and Quiche

Moog's Musical Eatery
Moog’s Musical Eatery

Recently on the Schnarr’s Hardware blog, I wrote about one of my favorite cookbooks, harvesting collards and greens from my garden and my favorite quiche recipe.

Read it here:
Collards Taste Great in Quiche

Article Review #2: – Trends in Non-store Retailing

This is a homework assignment for my Marketing 5000 class at Webster University. It has not been graded yet.

Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Dr. John Jinkner
MRKT-5000: Marketing
20 April 2020

Name of the Article: “Catalogs Remain a Staple in Retailers’ Toolboxes”
Source: Multichannel Merchant
URL: https://multichannelmerchant.com/blog/catalogs-remain-staple-retailers-toolboxes/

Article Summary

Author Lisa Henthorn in the article “Catalogs Remain a Staple in Retailers’ Toolboxes” first addressed the decline of printed catalog use by many retailers in the late 2010s during a recession that coincided with the rise of social media and the continued adoption of ecommerce (Henthorn). Some retailers who took the opportunity to cut costs also lost a lot of revenue. Land’s End, for example lost $100 million in revenue the year after ceasing printed catalog production (Henthorn). Other retailers returned to using printed catalogs after noticing that catalogs were still popular with many customers and influenced purchases in stores as well as directly from the catalogs (Henthorn).

It has been noted that the majority of millennials, consumers in the 21-35 year-old age group, have used catalogs to make purchases influenced by a catalog (Henthorn). Neil O’Keefe, senior VP of marketing and content for the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) believes that millennials enjoy catalogs because they have viewed less printed marketing material than past generations and the imagery in catalogs attracts them (Henthorn).

Catalogs continue to be part of the omnichannel marketing mix employed by many retailers today (Henthorn). The purpose of omnichannel marketing is to give customers a seamless and consistent shopping experience as they interact with the brand via the channels of their own choosing (Sopadjieva). A study published in Harvard Business Review showed that the majority of the customers surveyed in a 2015-2016 study were multi-channel customers and shoppers that used only a single channel were markedly in the minority (Sopadjieva). Multi-channel users were also found to spend more on average both online and in stores, as well as being more frequent and loytal customers (Sopadjieva).

Henthorn makes the case in her article for not only continuing to use catalogs along with other channels, but also leveraging technology and data from all channels to make the catalog shopping experience more personal for the shopper and relevant to seasonal campaigns (Henthorn).

How this Article Relates to our Course

Printed catalogs can be either a stand-alone shopping channel or part of a multi-channel or omnichannel mix (Pride and Ferrell, 473). I chose to write about the state of catalog marketing in the present day because I currently work part-time for a company that includes printed catalogs in the marketing mix and wanted information on how to use the printed catalogs more effectively.

L.L. Bean is a company that is featured as a case study in our textbook (Pride and Ferrell, 487-488). L.L. Bean began as a mail order company and now continues to use catalogs along with retail stores and online retailing. Unlike the previously mentioned Land’s End which reduced the use of printed catalogs and lost considerable revenue, L.L. Bean has thrived by retaining catalogs as part of its marketing mix while using technology to send a number of specialized catalogs to targeted customers (Ruiz) as suggested by author Henthorn. Henthorn mentioned catalogs being popular with millennials because they are more of a novelty to that generation, and author Ruiz picked up on a similar observation by quoting a customer named Melissa Berggren who felt that the trend away from catalogs during the recession years made catalogs seem fresh and interesting again. Ms. Berggren also appreciated the upgraded concepts and production values of some of today’s catalogs which she likes to use for decorating inspiration rather than just product listings (Ruiz). Rohit Deshpande, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, notes that brands need to really work hard to gain attention from customers (Ruiz). When customers enjoy interacting with a brand in any channel, that company has a competitive advantage (Garnier and Poncin, 363).

IKEA is another brand that is using multiple channels to reach customers according to their preferences. Brick-and-mortar retailing dominates, but the catalog, apps, social media and e-commerce channels are still very important (Pride and Ferrell, 489-491). IKEA also put extra effort into making their stores into destinations with cafes and displays that are compelling and tailored to the clientele in the vicinity (Pride and Ferrell, 490). Researchers Garnier and Poncin studied the use of catalogs by IKEA because they are a company that still has a popular printed catalog even though they offer several other channels (Garnier and Poncin, 362). The researchers’ goal was to study the effectiveness of online catalogs as compared to e-commerce web sites and printed catalogs (Garnier and Poncin, 361). Although their findings suggested that online catalogs might not be a necessary investment if a company already has an e-commerce web site (Garnier and Poncin, 366), there are concepts in their paper that can apply to any marketing channel. Customers seek both utilitarian and hedonic value when they shop (Garnier and Poncin, 364). Hedonic value is the “search for pleasure, fun, and experiential stimulation” (Garnier and Poncin, 363). In the brick-and-mortar realm, L.L. Bean is giving customers a more compelling experience in its flagship store by including a cafe and demonstrations, making this location a tourist destination as well as a channel for engaging with the brand (Pride and Ferrell, 488). Like IKEA, L.L. Bean successfully added to the hedonic value of customer store visits. Catalogs that only repeat product listings that are on the company’s web site risk creating a negative impression on customers by wasting paper and the customer’s time (Ruiz). Printed catalogs that contain content that adds to the hedonic value, such as stories, are being used by many brands that know their customers like to be inspired by catalogs (Ruiz).

Marketers that do still use catalogs should take into account what their customers like or dislike about catalogs today to use them effectively. For example Patagonia prints its catalogs on recycled paper to reduce the environmental concern that customers may have about paper catalogs (Ruiz). Land’s End surveyed its customers and found out that 75% of online purchasers had used the catalog to review products, a finding that caused the company to reconsider the role of catalogs in its marketing mix (Ruiz). As we’ve been learning, all marketing should be centered on the customer (Pride and Ferrell, 5). The marketing environment is always changing (Pride and Ferrell, 12-13) and the same forces that influence the marketing environment in general also can cause older channels to be used by customers in new ways.

Works Cited

Garnier, Marion and Ingrid Poncin. “Do enriched digital catalogues offer compelling experiences, beyond websites? A comparative analysis through the IKEA case.” Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, vol. 47, March 2019, pp. 361-369. doi.org/10.1016/j.jretconser.2018.12.011. Accessed 19 April 2020.

Henthorn, Lisa. “Catalogs Remain a Staple in Retailers’ Toolboxes.” Access Intelligence, LLC, 2019, https://multichannelmerchant.com/blog/catalogs-remain-staple-retailers-toolboxes/. Accessed 18 April 2020.

Pride, William M. and O.C. Ferrell. Marketing. 2018 Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2016, 2018.

Ruiz, Rebecca R. “Catalogs, After Years of Decline, Are Revamped for Changing Times.” The New York Times Company, 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/01/26/business/media/catalogs-after-years-of-decline-are-revamped-for-changing-times.html. Accessed 20 April 2020.

Sopadjieva, Emma et al. “A Study of 46,000 Shoppers Shows That Omnichannel Retailing Works”. Harvard Business School Publishing, 2017, https://hbr.org/2017/01/a-study-of-46000-shoppers-shows-that-omnichannel-retailing-works. Accessed 20 April 2020.

Links to some of the resources I cited above and for some that I did not use are on a Pinterest board here:
Marketing 5000

Article Review: Marketing “Green” Products and Being a Good Corporate Citizen

This is a homework assignment for my Marketing 5000 class at Webster University. It has not been graded yet.

Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann

Dr. John Jinkner

MRKT-5000: Marketing

6 April 2020

Article Review #1: – E-Marketing, Digital Media and Social Networking

Name of the Article:  “How Social Media Communications Combine with Customer Loyalty Management to Boost Green Retail Sales”

Source:  Journal of Interactive Marketing

URL:  http://dx.doi.org.library3.webster.edu/10.1016/j.intmar.2018.12.005

Article Summary

Authors Lu and Miller examined how loyalty rewards programs (LRP) combined with customer relationship management (CRM) and social media campaigns could increase sales of “green” products in a retail setting.  Concentrating on grocers who sell foods that are marketed as organic, healthy and sustainable, the article explains that while the demand for “green” foods is growing, there are barriers to the acceptance of these products among some consumers (Lu and Miller, 87-88).  Some potential customers hold the perception that environmentally sustainable foods are too expensive, aren’t adequate substitutes for conventional products and are not worth the extra cost.  With additional knowledge about the value of such products, some consumers can be persuaded to give them a chance and be converted to motivated buyers (Lu and Miller, 88).

Because Facebook was the most dominant social media platform in the world at the time of the study, the authors used it to examine the relationship between Facebook content and sales among “green” grocery retailers in a large city in Australia.  Facebook is a platform that marketers can use to practice social customer relationship management (SCRM), an updated form of customer relationship management (CRM) that adds social media into the marketing mix (Lu and Miller, 89).  Intuition and previous studies showed the authors that effective content on Facebook should increase sales.  Their study focused on participants in loyalty rewards programs which are proven to increase profitability if used effectively (Lu and Miller, 90).

Social media gives consumers more control over marketing because they can create and share content rather than just consuming content that is pushed to them by the brand (Lu and Miller, 89).  Both brand-generated and consumer-generated content can increase the level of interest and engagement with a brand, which has a positive influence on actual shopping activity (Lu and Miller, 89, 91).  “Green” products do often require more knowledge on the part of the consumer to realize the value and to stimulate a purchase (Lu and Miller, 91).  Many “green” consumers organize themselves into social media-based communities that share common values and exchange information (Lu and Miller, 91).  Consumers need to be motivated to effectively consume information presented by a brand (Lu and Miller, 92).  It makes sense to leverage the power of social media along with the heightened brand engagement exhibited by long-term loyalty reward program participants (Lu and Miller, 92) to increase the acceptance of environmentally responsible products.  Lu and Miller found that thoughtful SCRM strategies did increase the sales of “green” products to long-term LRP members (Lu and Miller, 97) and that these loyal customers responded more to messages about the health benefits of sustainable products than they did about the environmental benefits or the price (Lu and Miller, 98).

How this Article Relates to our Course

In Chapter 1 of our textbook, “Marketing”, we are reminded that environmental factors that influence marketing can change quickly (Pride and Ferrell, 13).  As we are now suddenly dealing with a global health issue that has severe effects on many aspects of life, one way consumer needs have changed rapidly is that we need supplies to protect ourselves from infection.  Health, physical and mental, is at the top of nearly everyone’s concerns right now.  I work in a store that has a loyalty rewards program, engages in social media marketing, and sells some environmentally conscious products, considerations which made the article I reviewed of particular interest.  We also sell supplies, some in stock intermittently, that customers want and need to cope with the pandemic.  I’m observing and participating in real time how to change course rapidly as we respond to consumer demand as well as reading about it in our textbook.

Perhaps some might assume that such an event in history is a time for mere coping, not marketing.  Marketing concept is a philosophy that an organization adopts when it takes into account not only the needs of customers but the welfare of all the stakeholders that it has an effect upon (Pride and Ferrell, 13-14).  Customers of the store are stakeholders, as well as are owners, employees, vendors, service providers, delivery people, the families of all those groups and the community as a whole. Profiting by satisfying customer demand at the expense of other stakeholders was already frowned upon by many as a business practice before the current challenges we are facing (Pride and Ferrell, 14).  Brand managers would be wise to be wary of being perceived as exploiting a crisis.  For example, businesses that inflate the prices of crucial items or make false claims about the usefulness of products have been reported by name in an article published by the St. Louis Post Dispatch (Stewart).

The article I reviewed is enlightening when considering how marketing concept applies to serving the community in the present time.  Since long-term loyalty rewards program customers are the most profitable customer category for a retailer (Lu and Miller, 92), it is less than rational to reap short-term gains at the risk of offending long-term loyal customers with behavior that is not community-minded.  I hypothesize that a brand that already takes into account all stakeholders and has effectively imbued its organization with the philosophy behind its marketing concept is at low risk for carelessly implementing an action that will backfire because the first instincts of individuals within the organization will be to serve rather than exploit.  Now is not a time to cease marketing but to use actions as marketing while serving all stakeholders with a view to their long-term health and welfare, fiscal and otherwise.

Works Cited

Lu, Qiang Steven, and Rohan Miller. “How Social Media Communications Combine with Customer Loyalty Management to Boost Green Retail Sales.” Journal of Interactive Marketing, vol. 46, May 2019, pp. 87–100. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.intmar.2018.12.005. Accessed 06 April 2020.

Pride, William M. and O.C. Ferrell. Marketing. 2018 Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2016, 2018.

Stewart, Tynan. “Overpriced toilet paper, $12 masks: Missourians complain about coronavirus price-gouging.” Stltoday.com, 2020, www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/overpriced-toilet-paper-12-masks-missourians-complain-about-coronavirus-price-gouging/article_4bedcd86-c828-5be2-9f03-c3e010ef820c.html. Accessed 6 April 2020.

“I listened to a hilarious podcast about a fistula the other day…”

The quote above probably sounds like an unlikely sentence to text to anyone, but I have a doctor friend who shares my interest in audio content and has a weird sense of humor. She did in fact receive such a communication from me. We often recommend podcasts to each other to try out. A humorous episode about a fistula sounded to me like one she’d enjoy!

What are podcasts? They are audio presentations that you can consume on demand with a device that can access the Internet. If you like books on tape, instructional audio tapes, public radio, community radio, talk radio or similar audio content you will probably enjoy them – there seems to be a podcast for almost any topic you might be interested in.

Podcasts are a big part of my life. One reason is that I’m not very patient with entertainment content that is not on demand. I don’t want to constantly watch or listen to content that is selected by programmers to emotionally and intellectually manipulate me. I’m currently working on a Master’s Degree in Communications. My long-held suspicions that most mass media content is manipulation disguised as entertainment have been confirmed by my recent studies. I feel less manipulated if I at least choose the topics I want to hear about and get more of my entertainment from independent content producers. Although I sometimes enjoy mass entertainment for my own reasons, I prefer to avoid being inundated with commercials when possible and I don’t normally want to arrange my schedule around entertainment schedules – I want to watch or listen when it’s convenient for me.

Another reason is that I rely on podcasts a lot to help me fall asleep at night. While recovering from severe emotional trauma, I was introduced to meditation apps and sleep aid podcasts. Some podcasts are designed specifically for inducing sleep, and others work that way for me even if not specifically produced for that purpose.

I also spend multiple days a week working from home and podcasts help keep me entertained and less lonely if I’m doing tasks that are not that mentally engaging.

Here are some of my favorite podcasts, many with my brief commentary, divided into categories. I’ve linked to the podcast’s web site or social media fan page whenever possible so that no matter what platform or service you use to consume podcasts, if you can access the Internet hopefully you can find a way to listen. Usually that is done through a web browser or podcast app.

Educational podcasts

The History of Egypt Podcast – seems to be real archaeology, not pseudoarchaeology!

Pet Fish Talk – Inactive, but most of the episodes are still available. It’s not very polished, but these guys are like rock stars to me because of all the knowledge they have – when my landscaping boss told me he met these guys at a green industry conference, I was excited and pumped him for every bit of information he could remember. “You met the Bailey Brothers!!!! OMG!!!”

PodGOATS – great if you need an introduction to a history topic that you are interested in exploring in a more in-depth way later.

Stuff to Blow Your Mind

Stuff You Should Know – I don’t know if some of this “stuff” is important, but it’s almost all interesting once you get into it. A wide variety of topics to choose from.

You Bet Your Garden – A perennial favorite (har har).

Humor podcasts

The Crash Bang Wallop Podcast – This is a weird one. Two British comedians mocking some aspects of disasters. I felt extremely guilty for trying this one out, but since once at a trivia night I did sweep, singlehandedly, both the British slang and Disaster categories, I had to see for myself what I thought of it. They seem to (try to) steer away from mocking the victims and instead mock some aspects of the situation. Some of the disasters they cover are very tragic and terrible, and some are more lighthearted, such as New Coke. If dark humor does not appeal to you probably best to avoid the more tragic episodes.

The Dave Glover Show

The Tim Conway Jr. Show

Political podcasts

The Kevin Jackson Show – African-American conservatives are not unheard of, but they usually don’t get featured a lot in the mass media. If you want to hear from one, Kevin Jackson is very entertaining and will help you look at things from angles you may not have considered, if that’s what you are looking for.

Pop Culture podcasts

The Beatles Naked – I listen to a lot of Beatles podcasts and this is my current favorite. From what I can tell there is a lot of original or less obvious research presented.

Deck the Hallmark – I found this podcast while doing research for my paper What is the Hallmark Channel Selling? There are three hosts who have different views on Hallmark Channel programming – fan, tolerant, and critical. They are also very funny and I think you’ll laugh as they find things to rip and praise.

Fabcast – If you don’t LLLOOOOVVVVEEE the Beatles you might get frustrated by the sometimes over-the-top praise from these hosts, but they really do know their stuff and they have some perspectives that are worth hearing.

Fab 4 Free 4 All – These guys talk over each other a lot, which can get annoying sometimes, but their likable personalities and vast Beatles knowledge help make up for that.

I’ve Got a Beatles Podcast! – The hosts are really knowledgeable – one is even a musicologist. They also sometimes say hilarious things. For example, if you are a Paul McCartney fan, check out Episode 80: McCartney’s “Silliest (Love) Songs!” in which they include this concept – is a song “bad” if you love it? Thought provoking and funny!

Paul or Nothing – Some Paul McCartney fans that night not like this one. The host has some controversial opinions and has interviewed possibly the most controversial guest available – Geoffrey Guiliano. Guiliano is such a polarizing Beatles author that some people made up a rumor that he died in the 9/11 attacks. I found the resulting interview extremely entertaining along with most of these episodes, which sometimes praise and sometimes rip apart McCartney’s music. The host is engaging, funny and does his research. He is young and just learning some of the things we older fans have known for awhile, but he’s clearly putting in the effort.

Rushcast – hasn’t been active in awhile, but you can still listen to the archived episodes. Hosted by a bassist and music teacher.

Something About the Beatles

Talk More Talk – This is a videocast about the Beatles as solo artists. So far I’ve consumed it as audio only.

Take It Away – Knowledgeable analysis of Paul McCartney’s music.

Things We Said Today – Solid and entertaining Beatles analysis. Allan Kozinn in my opinion stands out in a field of talented hosts.

Trashy Divorces – Most of these episodes are about celebrities, so if you study pop culture, reputation management, the use of media as a weapon or related topics you might find it useful.

Religious podcasts

Catholic Answers Live – You have to know a lot to be able to explain the Catholic Faith and the rotating hosts on this show know the answers. They are respectful and loving to all callers but not afraid to tell it like it is even when it’s radically counter-cultural. If you are curious about what Catholics believe or are Catholic and want to strengthen your practice, this is one of the best resources I know of.

The Thriving Christian Artist – Tips to help achieve spiritual, artistic and financial success.

Who Is the Man of the Shroud? – One of my favorite intersections – Archaeology and Christianity!

Sleep Inducing podcasts

Sleep With Me – Delightfully, whimsically, benevolently weird! Effective too!

 

I’m not sure why but I feel I have to explain my interest in the next couple of podcast categories a little bit! I inherited a layperson’s interest in morbid topics and forensic science, along with archaeology and history, from my Mother and Grandmother. It may be weird, but I came by it honestly! My Mom subscribed to Reader’s Digest when I was in grade school and I usually read every article in it, but the ones that really stick in my memory are the disaster and unsolved mystery related articles. My Mom took us to every historic site that was possible during her life and history is often rather dark. When you visit historic sites and monuments, you will learn about all kinds of disasters, deaths, epidemics, assassinations, wars, crimes and oppression as well as happier topics.

When I was young, along with subscriptions to the adult and kid’s versions of National Geographic, I also had a subscription to a kid’s magazine for mysteries, UFO’s, Sci-Fi and paranormal stuff called Weird Worlds. I lost most of my interest in Sci-Fi and UFO’s when I got older but I still love mysteries, especially historical ones. I also am fascinated by human behavior. The way people react in extreme situations is interesting to me.

Weird History and Paranormal podcasts

Astonishing Legends – I am a practicing Roman Catholic, so I do believe there is a realm of existence that is beyond what our senses can normally detect, but that doesn’t mean I find every report of such phenomena credible. Most paranormal topics bring out the skeptic in me, but I have an open mind and if someone can make a case that is evidence based, I would like to hear it. The Astonishing Legends guys do a great job of doing thorough research and presenting their evidence in a way that seems intellectually honest. They lean on the side of believing in some of the paranormal phenomena they research when evidence is inconclusive or suggestive. I have no problem with that. There is no point to listening for entertainment to a presentation of research on a paranormal topic that is settled. What is the fun of that? If you don’t consider a mystery debunked, why not entertain it for awhile and see what happens? I enjoy the mental exercise of deciding how to evaluate evidence.

Diggin’ Oak Island – This podcast is about a TV show that my husband and I watch called “The Curse of Oak Island”. The History Channel should be ashamed of how intellectually dishonest this show is, but it’s still entertaining because I like the personalities, the technology and the ridiculousness. If you are interested in the actual mystery (I’m one of those people who was fascinated by the Reader’s Digest article about it in the 1970s) I recommend this podcast as a companion piece to the show. It helps understand what you’ve just watched and figure out what is bunk and what might have some credibility to it. This host doesn’t trash the show when it’s not called for, he is a fan, but he is also appropriately critical.

The Futility Closet – Obscure bits of interesting history plus lateral thinking puzzles.

Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World – Jimmy Akin is my favorite host on the Catholic Answers religious podcast. Here he tackles both mysterious faith related subjects and mysterious non-religious topics and analyzes them from both a logic perspective and a faith perspective. Very stimulating and refreshing to listen to, because he draws on many areas of knowledge and explores how they inform each other. The depth of this guy’s knowledge is astonishing every time I listen.

Lore – Sometimes it annoys me that the description of each episode is kind of vague, but on the other hand not knowing much about the topic before I listen helps me to be surprised and exposes me to bits of history that I didn’t know. I also like this host’s other podcast, Cabinet of Curiosities.

Omnibus – This is the podcast that featured the hilarious fistula episode. What more do I need to say?

Thinking Sideways – Unfortunately inactive but the archives are still available.

Disaster and Disturbing podcasts

Casefile – This is one of my favorites in the True Crime genre. Well researched and respectful to the victims, and free of rambling.

Coroner Talk – Sounds like a great educational resource if you are a coroner. Why do I like it? I am also interested in how such an occupation affects people psychologically and what it takes to be able to do a job like that.

Great Disasters – The hostess has a great delivery, very clear and organized, but not without emotion when appropriate. She is an amazing storyteller and reader. And the topics are well written and researched. You’ll be moved and informed.

Nocturne – This is a good one for when you want to be just a little creeped out but not necessarily terrified!

Omitted – Season Four, Island Vacation combines creepiness, storytelling and travel. Really compelling.

Plane Crash Podcast – Believe it or not, there are several podcasts about plane crashes in existence. This is by far my favorite. The host does good research, is logical, doesn’t ramble, and has a kind, compassionate attitude.

Rippercast – Although organized around the Jack the Ripper case, this podcast is mostly not focused on gore but instead on Victorian history and culture and how it intersects with the case. Since the case lives on in current pop culture, some of the episodes examine that aspect also. If you have any interest in the Victorian era there will probably be some episodes you can get into.

True Crime Garage – I don’t listen to every episode, but my liking for the hosts keeps me checking in from time to time.

Wow, that was a huge list. It doesn’t include all the podcasts I currently listen to or have listened to, but I hope it’s enough of a selection that you’ll find something interesting!

Pride & Prejudice: Light Holiday Entertainment?

pandp_webMy husband and I have been gifted season tickets to the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis preview nights by his parents and it is our custom to go to dinner with then before each new production. Usually I like to ask if any of the party are familiar with the play. If it is adapted from a book, I want to know if anyone has read it and what they thought of it. Until recently I haven’t seen a lot of live plays so I’m trying to learn as much as I can.

I read “Pride and Prejudice” long ago and I’ve seen both modern and period style movie adaptations of the novel, but none of these were recent and fresh in my memory. I described what the story was about to the best of my ability to our party and my husband said “So it’s like a chick flick”. Coming from my husband this is not a put down. He likes “chick flicks” – he is the one who introduced me to Hallmark Christmas Movies for the first time which also could be considered “chick flicks” but whose audience is around 30% men. I searched for podcasts about “Pride and Prejudice” to learn more about the history and context of the original novel and came across an episode of “The Drunk Guys Book Club Podcast” in which they admitted that they read the book because it’s something that one probably should read if one has aspirations of being well-read. They admitted it was not their usual taste but they are aware the story is enjoyed by many women even in the present day.

The central driver of the plot is an English country family with an estate that legally must be left to a male heir and is entailed – it cannot be divided up among the daughters of the family which has no sons to provide for their future support. The daughters must find husbands who are able and willing to support them and if circumstances make it necessary, the possibly future widowed mother and any sisters who don’t find husbands. The closest male heir is a cousin and it would be advantageous for the family of one of the daughters could wed him so at least some of the family remains connected to the estate.

If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because it’s similar to Downton Abbey, a popular television historical drama that familiarized many Americans with entailment and primogeniture and how those practices affected landed families in the UK that were trying to preserve estates and retain social status. It wasn’t always possible in real life to do that and indulge in romantic love at the same time. Pride and Prejudice the play makes no attempt to explore the fates of the working class or servant class which have very different concerns. American life in the present day has many differences to the landed gentry life of the early 1800s or the aristocratic life of the early 1900s depicted in Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey respectively. Regency England is so far from life in the US in 2019 but not so distant that we can’t enjoy this play today.

It isn’t always easy in the present day to find romantic love even when women have a lot more freedom and economic independence. I thought about this while watching the play because when I was dating my now husband, I told him that I might eventually sell the two small homes I own, but I wasn’t going to promise to sell them at any particular time or at all. I told him that I would of course take his opinions about managing them into account and make decisions that were best for us as a couple, but since I could afford to maintain the properties with my own money I was going to be the final decision maker. I told him if that was a dealbreaker for him to tell me now.

Does that seem like an odd question for a woman in her late 40s to have to ask a suitor in the year 2017? I think it’s odd indeed, but I learned from the relationship proceeding the one with my now husband, that yes I had to ask it. I thought I was on the verge of a proposal from my previous boyfriend, but he abruptly dumped me. He told me the reason for his action was that he did not approve of my renting an art studio. When I suggested that after marriage I move to his home and use my then current home as a studio because the cost of owning it was roughly the same as rent for the studio, he told me it was not acceptable for me to consider still retaining ownership of my condo and he was finished with me for even thinking about it. He believed I was incompetent at managing money (guess which one of us was and still is debt-free) and he didn’t want me to continue to do art projects. It’s possible there was a lot more than that going on, but I have it in writing from him that those were the reasons he was willing to admit to. I believe he was really a fake suitor and not a real one but I thought he was for real at the time. Yes, I’m old fashioned enough to still think in terms of “suitors”. I haven’t spoken to him since other than superficial politeness if we are ever at the same events. (The reason we met in the first place is that we like similar events and know a lot of the same people. I’m polite if spoken to because I don’t want to make other guests or the hosts uncomfortable.)

After that I decided that if I ever got the chance to be in a relationship again and it looked like it might be leading to marriage, I would have this conversation earlier since apparently some attitudes I thought were a given in the present day in our current culture are, in fact,  not. I wanted to get married but not if I had to give up my right to own property to do it. I had read the essay “A Room Of One’s Own” by Virginia Wolf in my teen years and as a creative person I fully understood the implications even if I didn’t yet understand how hard it was going to be to get “a room of my own” AND romantic love and how long I was going to have to wait.

I told my husband that if he liked Hallmark Christmas movies he would probably like the play we were about to see. The heroine is rewarded for her strong-minded and unorthodox approach to life. She finds love with a handsome man and security for her family, similar to many Hallmark movie plots. The play even ended in true Hallmark style with a couple of conventions I won’t spoil but which you can probably predict! With its disturbing background about the rights and roles of women in the circumstances in which it was written, it can be paradoxically enjoyed as light Holiday fare if you don’t dig in too deeply. And if you want to dig in deeply there is plenty of substance to reflect on later. Is this story romantic or anti-romantic?

Enjoy the florid manners, witty banter, choreography, romantic comedy conventions and lush production. As someone who appreciates design and sewing, I was particularly taken by the costumes and would have been entertained by those alone if necessary! There is a big cast with lots of costume changes and I loved how certain characters wore variations of the same color to help you keep track of who is who. If you go, if you are not very familiar, to get maximum enjoyment out of the play I recommend brushing up a little on the characters beforehand so you are not confused. Also don’t do what I did and remain seated during intermission. It’s a long play and I got a little restless-leg feeling going at the end which made me fidget to try to get my leg comfortable. (When I was younger I called it “movie knee”.) Do walk around a bit if you can!

Pride & Prejudice
by Jane Austen
Adapted by Christopher Baker
Directed by Hana S. Sharif
December 4-29, 2019

Link to box office: Pride & Prejudice

I put some links to help understand more of the historical background here:
Literary Origins